Honouring Black History Month in higher education

When I received the email that confirmed my place at university despite less than impressive grades (I literally have two whole A Levels), I couldn’t help but wonder whether my space was awarded on merit or the fact that I ticked the box that said ‘Mixed Black Caribbean’. 

Although we’re living in a more progressive society, racial discrimination and inequality can be felt by people of colour in the UK to this very day, emphasising the importance of honouring Black History Month.  

So, what is Black History Month and why should you care about it? 

For the past 32 years, October has marked Black History Month in the UK. Acknowledging and celebrating Black History Month is important because it’s a great opportunity to learn, explore and reflect on diversity in the UK whilst taking stock of the achievements and contributions people of colour have made to the social, political, economic and cultural development of the UK. 

During October, there will be events across the country exploring African and Caribbean cultures and histories, such as an exhibition in the Bank of England, which explores the bank’s historical links with slavery. 

The importance of Black History Month

There are still people out there who are unaware of the inequality that still affects ethnic minorities in the UK today, even within higher education, which is why Black History Month is so significant.  

Highlighting the inequality in higher education 

Did you know, in the 5 years to July 2020, the percentage of HE entrants from the Asian, Black, Mixed and Other ethnic groups combined went up from 24.0% to 27.4%, yet black students were 22 times more likely to have their university applications investigated compared to white applicants. 

And there are questions of inequality once the student is accepted into university too. Black graduates are 12% less likely to gain a first-class degree than white students of comparable backgrounds. In addition to this, black graduates are less likely to be in graduate-level employment than white graduates; and 80% of white graduates in employment are employed full-time, compared to 70% of employed black graduates according to research published by Social Market Foundation.. 

How can Black History Month be embraced?  

This year, the theme of Black History Month is ‘Sharing Journeys’, which is essentially an exploration of the lives and stories of the people who came to Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries and helped lay the foundations of today’s diverse Black British community – a journey that’s still ongoing. 

As such, Black History Month highlights that black history, spanning across three centuries, is so rich that it can’t actually be contained to just one month.  

A different perspective 

Universities can, and will, celebrate Black History Month in many ways, but one very topical way to embrace the event is to diversify learning content, using Black History Month as an opportunity to gain different cultural perspectives and inject those into the curriculum. 

It’s a wider discussion, but as we are living in an increasingly diverse world, including the history that makes us so diverse will help learners of all ages to understand ethical, racial, and cultural perspectives. This, in turn, creates a culture of openness that will help them going forward in life. 

A different voice 

In addition to diversifying learning content, consider diversifying the voice.   

In 2018, it was found that 89% of all books were written by white authors. By increasing the usage of books written by authors from diverse backgrounds, it will not only show different perspectives but it will also inspire young people from minority backgrounds to become the authors, researchers and scholars of the future. 

Representation is important in every part of life, including at university. By including alternative narratives and narrators, the content will be more inclusive and reflect more of the facts. 

By simply making content more relevant to students, they can feel more motivated and engaged with their studies. These are two ingredients that are said to drive success and be integral to students feeling a sense of belonging. 

Share the journey

Share your journey to diversifying learning content; show the effort and care that goes into being inclusive and accommodating. 

Education has an incredible part in everyone’s journey, and also plays an important role in society’s journey to a brighter tomorrow. 

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Comment below! 

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